You have to expect things of yourself before you can do them. ~Michael Jordan
On Monday night I noticed my younger son has a zero (missing assignment) in Science and his grade had dropped.
Part of me was kicking myself for not noticing it over Spring Break, the other part of me was thinking “it’s his grade, let him figure it out.”
I commented on his grade and the zero. Instead of the usual excuses – “I turned it in!” or “I don’t have a zero!” my younger son opened School Loop, looked at his grade, and saw that he did in fact, have a zero.
“It’s for a group project, I will talk to my teacher tomorrow” he explained.
I gave him the look.
“If you are going to self-advocate, will your audience (AKA: your teacher) be more accessible tomorrow before class with 30 other kids entering the classroom or will your audience have more time to ‘listen’ if you send an email?” I asked.
My younger son didn’t reply, instead, he pulled out his laptop, drafted and sent off an email, and then closed the laptop. Quick, painless. Done.
He smiled at me, I smiled back.
My older son had similar issues in middle school: Missing homework. Lost homework. Homework that was done but left at home. He would make the same excuses- “I turned it in!” or “I don’t have a zero!”. He said he talked to his teachers yet he continued to rack up zeros.
I’d get frustrated and email the teacher to set up meetings to discuss his performance in class. I would be the one to help him get his grades back on track. I thought I was the one “advocating” for my son but instead, I was doing him a disservice.
When my older son started high school, a high school where the success of completing coursework is dependent on the student’s ability to manage and prioritize their time with the assigned work, it was an eye-opener for him and for me: that first year he had two incompletes by the end of the school year. This time, it was up to my son to resolve the issue by going to summer school and finishing the work. It was not a fun experience for him, but in the long run, he learned how to manage his time and communicate with his teachers. He now completes his coursework on time and maintains good grades.
Last year when my younger son started 6th grade, I went down the same path: emailing teachers and setting up appointments, trying to keep him on track with missing assignments. By the end of the school year, I was frustrated and exhausted and my younger son wasn’t any better at managing his time or communicating with his teachers.
This year, for 7th grade, I shifted my thinking from “I am my son’s advocate” to “I will teach my son how to self-advocate and take responsibility for his work.” I wanted a hover-free, nag-free school year.
When missing assignments showed up on School Loop, I made my son follow up with his teacher on the missing assignment. I created the 3-1-1 communication model for him: 3 facts, 1 action/request, 1 thank you or apology.
In the case of the missing science assignment this week, he sent an email:
“Hi Ms. W – I completed the Lynx and Hare written assignment with Chris. Chris said he turned the assignment in. I do not understand why I have a zero.” (3 facts). May I talk to you after Science Quest tomorrow morning? (1 request), Thank you (1 thank you) -C”
I love seeing the look on his face when he receives a response from his teachers: he recognizes that the two minutes it took to draft an email means that he got credit for his work and that his grade will go up:
Hello C – “Thank you for your email and your diligent communication! The document that was turned in did not have your name on it, but your grade has now been updated. When we do collaborative work, please just make a note at the top of the document (“by C and Chris”) so that I remember who worked on it. Thank you, LW”
I love being on the sidelines, cheering him on as he takes responsibility, gains confidence, and takes charge of his grades.
I love not being a lawnmower parent.
But most of all, I love watching him grow into a thoughtful, effective communicator – without me having to nag.